Since the program’s inaugural season in 1989, Notre Dame softball has been a paragon of consistency, having won 30 or more games every year except for the canceled 2020 season. Better yet, beginning in 1999, the Irish have advanced to 22 straight NCAA tournaments. Head coach Deann Gumpf has been on staff in South Bend for all 22 of those tournaments, first serving as an assistant from 1998-2001 before taking over the reins of the program in 2002.
There’s no denying the success Notre Dame has had under Gumpf, who has also won four Big East tournament championships and seven Big East regular-season championships during her tenure, but the Irish came into the 2022 season still in search of the team’s first trip to the NCAA Super Regionals.
Last season, Notre Dame went a perfect 15-0 at home and won the final 14 games of the regular season en route to a 33-15 overall finish. But, the blistering close to the season quickly fizzled out in the postseason. First, the Irish were bounced in the first round of the ACC tournament to Virginia Tech. Then, in the Lexington Regional of the NCAA tournament, Notre Dame won its first two games against Miami (OH) and host Kentucky, only to then get shut out in back-to-back games by the Wildcats to end the season.
The good news for the Irish coming into this season was the return of seven of its nine starters from last year. Abby Sweet, Alexis Holloway and Sarah Genz all elected to return for a graduate season, which is especially notable given the fact that last year’s middle infield duo of Chelsea Purcell and Katie Marino became the first ever graduate student players in program history.
More than halfway through this season, the Irish are currently 30-7 overall and 9-3 in ACC play with Top25 wins against No. 22 LSU, No. 9 Texas and No. 6 Northwestern. The wins over LSU and Texas came on the heels of three straight losses and sparked a nine-game win streak.
Notre Dame opened conference play with consecutive losses to Virginia in Charlottesville, but bounced back to win game three of the series, which began the team’s second nine-game win streak of the season.
The Irish then swept Pittsburgh, outscoring the Panthers 26-7 in the process, before capturing a convincing 8-1 victory over a top-15 Duke squad in game one of a series that had the final two games postponed due to inclement weather. Senior pitcher Payton Tidd was masterful in the circle against the Blue Devils, tossing a complete game while striking out six and giving up just one hit against a Duke team with the best batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage in the ACC.
Most recently, Notre Dame took two out of three games at home against Georgia Tech in what was a thrilling series from start to finish.
In game one of the series, the Yellow Jackets scored four runs in the top of the 7th to steal a 9-8 victory. In game two, Georgia Tech held an 11-5 lead through five innings before the Irish rattled off three runs in both the sixth and seventh innings to send the game into extra innings. In extras, the Yellow Jackets struck first in the top of the ninth on a Kennedy Cowden home run that deflected off the glove of Irish junior left fielder Leaa Hanks and over the wall. In the bottom half of the inning, Hanks responded at the plate with a home run of her own, her second of the game to tie the game at 12. Four batters later, junior Miranda Johnson ripped a single to right field that scored Emma Clark and gave the Irish their first walk-off win of the season.
The fireworks continued in the rubber match of the series. Georgia Tech swiftly built an 11-3 lead through the first inning and a half, but Notre Dame responded with five runs of their own in the bottom of the second, four coming on a Miranda Johnson grand slam. Notre Dame tied the game in the bottom of the 7th on an Emma Clark single to send the game to extras, and again it was Georgia Tech that took the lead first on a solo home run. But, in the bottom of the 8th, junior Joley Mitchell came in to pinch-hit with two on and two out and sent the first pitch she saw over the trees in center field to walk it off for the Irish for the second time in as many days.
The Irish followed up the series win over the Yellow Jackets with a 3-2 midweek victory over No. 6 Northwestern before traveling to Syracuse and outscoring the Orange 14-2 in two wins.
No team in the ACC has scored or driven in more runs than Notre Dame so far this season, and the Irish are second in the conference in team batting average at .334. Sophomore standout Karina Gaskins leads the team with a .429 batting average, 10 home runs, 46 RBIs and a .565 on-base percentage. In the pitching circle, freshman Shannon Becker is quickly blossoming into a star having given up just 14 earned runs through 61 innings pitched on the year. Notre Dame is well on its way to a 23rd straight NCAA tournament appearance, and the Irish have the depth, offensive firepower and pitching prowess this season to make a run at the Women’s College World Series for the first time ever.